A/N: My first IshiIchi! Inspired, somewhat, by the recent Bleach ED, which seems like so much blatant IchiIshi fanservice even I noticed. As always, I'm intrigued by a post-war Ichigo and the thought of how the post-war events might affect Ishida as well. This, um, was a drabble. Was.

Rating: T
Summary: Uryuu tries to cope with the aftermath of the Winter War

Bleach and all its characters belong to Kubo; I just take them out for writing funtimes.

Hope you enjoy!

Uryuu frets.

He frets, mostly, while he sews. A useful practice: his friends don't question the furrow in his brow or the tension in his jaw when he's hunched over a piece of cloth or focused on taut, even stitches. And he finds it comforting, this careful concentration on an art that demands the tactile; the sharp needle penetrates delicate fabric with soothing regularity.

He is the calm center of controlled chaos: all around him his classmates perch on their desks, laughing and talking and enjoying the few minutes before lunch ends and the drone of the school day begins again. On his right side, Keigo is all arms and legs and wild gesticulations; the swish of Orihime's skirt lingers in his peripheral vision.

In the corner, Kurosaki Ichigo sits distant from all of them.

Kurosaki…died. Uryuu returns to the thought that haunts him and broods over it, absently slips the needle in and out of fabric. Carefully, he observes Ichigo with sidelong glances. The former shinigami does not stir in his seat and keeps his gaze fixed on the window, on a sky so bright and blue it almost hurts. After he helped end Aizen's plans, Kurosaki died right here in Karakura.

This is not, of course, strictly true. Kurosaki Ichigo is still very much alive, very much the same brash boy who speaks to bullies with his fists and scowls at his homework—but the cocksure, relentlessly friendly, stubborn shinigami Uryuu remembers is gone. This Ichigo is…tempered, more reserved, bitterly silent and sometimes frighteningly inward. He's friendly—of course. And kind—of course. But the cheer in his demeanor rings false now, and a new melancholy haunts his almost-smile and his warm dark eyes.

Uryuu hates it.

In his seat, Ichigo stirs and suddenly glances up at the board; Uryuu looks away quickly—too quickly—and loses his rhythm. His concentration falters; graceful hands slip. The needle stabs viciously through fabric and pierces skin, and he hisses in a faintly-surprised breath as a small blossom of blood blooms against the white fabric in his hands. Ruined, he thinks wryly, and it's his fault for being careless, but—

"Are you okay, Ishida-kun?"

Orihime peers down worriedly at the bloody cloth, then half-extends her hands to heal him before she catches herself and remembers where she is, who she is, that they are normal students and everything they've learned and suffered together has no place here. She offers him a sympathetic smile instead. "I'll get you a bandage if you need one."

"Thank you, Inoue-san," he returns, with enough warmth to reassure her. "But the bleeding's already stopped and it doesn't even hurt."

She hesitates, then nods and turns away; Inoue always hears the words he doesn't speak. And Uryuu realizes the exchange must have drawn Ichigo's attention; the Quincy can sense that he is the focus of the former shinigami's intense gaze. With a sharp, precise gesture the dark-haired young man adjusts his glasses and keeps his gaze focused on the cloth as he finishes his sewing anyway.

He should, he thinks, be grateful.

Ichigo isn't a shinigami any more, after all. And the fact that he isn't means they can be friends now, real friends, because now Uryuu doesn't have to go about the business of maintaining a centuries-long grudge that stopped making sense long ago. And that counts for something, doesn't it?

It has to count for something.

When the teacher enters, Uryuu tucks away his sewing and opens his notebook. His neat precise writing fills the page, uniform and orderly; he finds the sight calming and picks up his pen. Class soothes him, sewing soothes him, all the mundane rituals of life soothe the nagging ache that reminds him nothing is right at all, and—

—and his thoughts scatter and he stiffens immediately as he senses a wild fluctuation in reiatsu nearby. Hollow.

The Quincy forces himself not to bolt free of his desk and run for the door. Instead he stands, calmly, and pulls an excuse from the pile he's accumulated over the years—bathroom sorry headache nurse's office, I forgot a folder or my pencil or my calculator or my shoe. The teacher nods, slowly—skeptical, he knows—but before she can put words to the doubt in her eyes he's already halfway out the door, head bowed and gaze serious: the ideal student.

He doesn't look back as he leaves.

If he does, he knows, he will see Ichigo's gaze shadowed with hurt and loss, will see those shoulders slump slightly, defeated, and he won't be able to go. He won't be able to make himself take a single step out the door. I'm sorry, he thinks as he darts down the hall and then outside into fresh air and bright sunshine. Ichigo, I'm sorry.

It's not right. It's not remotely okay, it's not fair, and as Uryuu runs down the side streets of Karakura the loss almost overwhelms him. He stumbles to a halt, panting for a moment, and tries to gather his thoughts in the wake of the revelation he experiences every time this happens:

I'm not the one who should be doing this.

Kurosaki Ichigo is irreplaceable. And though Ishida Uryuu has all the requisite traits to be a fine warrior and a leader himself—a cool head, the ability to analyze and strategize, strength and determination in spades—he knows, as they all know, that Kurosaki is the beating heart of their closely-knit group. The stubborn stupid idiot's meant to lead. He was born for it.

You should be here. Not me. You're a shinigami, Ichigo. You were meant to be a shinigami.

Ahead, the roar of a hollow echoes against the alley walls; Uryuu forces thoughts of Ichigo from his mind as years of training and intense self-discipline kick in. A single graceful motion and the Quincy cross dangles from his wrist, gleaming, and in only moments Ginrei Kojaku blazes coolly against brighter sunlight.

Ishida Uryuu no longer fights solely for the sake of Quincy pride. He fights for Ichigo, too.


That's a lot of hollow to kill in a day, and the sun sets as Uryuu walks away from the scattered corpses and allows the bright blaze of Ginrei Kojaku to fade. Fourteen, he thinks again uneasily to himself, and though he finds these low-level berserkers to be frighteningly easy kills—nothing like the Espada, not nearly—he still wonders why they've been appearing in Karakura with greater and greater frequency.

Soul Society might know. But he won't ask.

He takes the long route home. The wind feels good in his sweat-damp dark hair, cools the flush of exertion on his cheeks. It's a nice evening, he thinks, and hopes Inoue got home okay and that her new part-time job isn't too stressful. The hum of battle adrenaline fades with each step, and he's almost relaxed as he rounds the corner, almost—


Uryuu starts, blue eyes widening, and spots Ichigo instantly: the former shinigami leans casually against a nearby alley wall, his hands thrust into his pockets and his shoulders slumped. Uryuu pauses, uncertain; he's unsure of how to respond to the look in Ichigo's tired dark eyes that says I know exactly where you've been.

The Quincy aches.

"Kurosaki," he says pleasantly as he approaches, and strives to make himself appear casual. I'm not trying to replace you, he thinks desperately, though he already knows that the former shinigami—loyal and kindhearted to a fault—would never think such a thing. Still, the lifelessness in those dark eyes hurts him, hurts more than Zangetsu's blade did on top of the Dome. He can barely bring himself to meet his friend's gaze.

Ichigo remains silent for a moment. The set of his mouth is soft and serious; he looks older now, though still boyishly handsome, with a maturity earned in blood and pain. For a moment Uryuu thinks the former shinigami will confess to the sorrow so evident in his eyes—but instead Ichigo manages a faint, crooked grin-that-isn't. "It's okay," he says quietly at length, and the warmth in his eyes is as genuine as the hurt. "I'm glad you do it. I'm glad you can protect everyone."

And Uryuu realizes Ichigo's been waiting here probably since school ended to say exactly that, to reassure a friend. And for just a moment he is so angry he almost can't breathe, angry enough to want to storm Soul Society all over again, because protecting everyone is all Kurosaki Ichigo has ever wanted to do and this is unfair, damn it, because now he can't protect anyone at all. How can Soul Society use him for their purposes and then toss him aside as though he means nothing? Can't anyone help him?

Uryuu decides he has a new reason to hate shinigami.

The silence between them stretches into a fragile and awkward quiet; Ichigo turns and takes a step away, head bowed, one hand in his pocket and the other clutching his school bag. The fading sunlight glimmers on brilliant orange hair, on the line of his jaw and his strong shoulders. And it occurs to Uryuu that Ichigo's leaving—leaving them all—in ways both small and significant. The bitter truth makes him desperate.

"Wait," he says, and since he is not given to blurting out spontaneous thoughts is surprised to hear the word leave his own mouth. "Kurosaki, wait."

Ichigo looks back over his shoulder.

Don't leave. You still matter, even if you can't— You still matter. You're still important to us. To me. But Ishida Uryuu can't say any of those things, at least not with the eloquence he'd prefer on such an occasion, and so clears his throat and adjusts his glasses precisely. "Kurosaki. I was thinking…"

What can I say that will make him stay?

He thinks of sewing, and fretting, and the bloody white cloth jammed into his bag, and blinks. "Your assistance," he announces. There. Yes. Uryuu straightens his shoulders and, for the moment, makes a minor sacrifice and sets his pride aside. "I was wondering if you'd lend me—lend everyone—your assistance. We need your help."

Ichigo scowls. He always scowls when he's confused, and Uryuu's suddenly glad that he knows this, knows these small but significant things about Kurosaki Ichigo. He elaborates. "Today at lunch I was sewing tablecloths for the school festival this weekend. Inoue-san's organizing the entire event and we need someone to help move tables tonight."

He is not, in fact, certain that tables need to be moved. But he will rearrange every room in the school if only so that Kurosaki has a reason to spend time with them.

Skepticism dulls Ichigo's dark eyes; he averts his gaze. "Yeah," he replies, and Uryuu hears the bleakness, the don't pity me lingering beneath his carefully casual tone. "I'm not sure I can make it."

But it's not pity that Uryuu feels. It's not, and the revelation startles him because he isn't sure, suddenly, what this urge is and he doesn't think he wants to figure it out. He renews his focus on the situation at hand. What can I say to make him listen? Too dignified to scramble for words or stammer out an explanation, he narrows his blue eyes instead—

—and then settles on the only tried-and-true method of communication that's ever worked between them: "You never think, Kurosaki."

Ichigo blinks.

"Honestly," Uryuu snaps, and warms to the familiar tone. This is blessedly familiar ground, and he folds his arms and peers critically at his friend through his glasses. "Didn't it occur to you that helping us out is the least you can do? Inoue-san's worked nonstop on this festival; don't treat it so casually."

Ichigo's brow furrows; he appears suitably chastened. "Sorry," he mutters guiltily. "I mean, I don't—"

"People need you, Kurosaki," Uryuu adds with a hint of coldness in his tone, and this is just like tying a delicate knot on a line of careful stitching: exquisite work. "You have a duty to your friends."

You haven't lost everything. You belong with us.

Ichigo's dark eyes widen; he looks incredulous, albeit largely unaffected, in the way that he always does at the end of Uryuu's harangues. "Geez," he sighs, and then shakes his head, bemused. "Don't get your panties in a twist." He turns away again, slinging the school bag over his shoulder as he waves goodbye. "I'll be there, okay?"

And suddenly Uryuu can breathe again. "Very well," he responds, tone stiff to hide his relief, and heaves a huge contented sigh as the former shinigami disappears around the corner, a slim silhouette against fading light. The evening breeze feels deliciously cool against his flushed skin and he's deeply grateful that, for the first time in a very long time, everything feels right again.

What happened to my tablecloths?

Roughly-sewn, plain white canvases drape the carefully-arranged tables and booths for the festival; Uryuu tests the material between a finger and thumb and then frowns. Four weeks carefully embroidering delicate white cloth with the proud blue cross of the Quincy, and for what?

"Ishida-kun!" Inoue glows when she's happy and tonight—the last night before the festival—she's especially radiant, all sparkling eyes and a wide, warm smile. "I'm so glad you came to help."

His brow knits. "Inoue-san," he says uncertainly, "my tablecloths—"

"Oh!" she exclaims, startled, and then turns her gaze to the plain white canvases, and back to him, and then back to the tablecloths. A blush stains her cheeks and she scratches her head, her smile growing sheepish. "Yours were nice, Ishida-kun, really nice, and so—and so we didn't want to ruin them, we thought they'd be better for a special occasion—and so we folded them and put them in storage, instead."

Reluctantly, he believes her.

Besides, the tablecloths he's sewn are nice—very nice—and the thought of students spilling punch over the proud emblem of his clan provokes him perhaps more than it should. Yes, he thinks, it's best to save them for a special occasion, and so rather than complain he helps instead and arranges chairs at her direction, hangs signs and streamers, sets up trays of food.

Kurosaki Ichigo arrives half an hour late.

Uryuu grits his teeth. Pent-up concern begets irritation: can't he ever be on time? But he bites his tongue on the complaint because Ichigo never gives a damn about being late anyway and because tonight Ichigo looks…


Standing there in his soft-worn t-shirt and jeans and the half-zipped blue hoodie he's thrown on top of it all Ichigo seems somehow boyish, his hair casually disheveled and his shoulders relaxed—but he's grown into himself, beyond himself somehow. Uryuu notices. Everyone notices; the evidence exists in the strong line of his jaw and the slope of his shoulders, in his melancholy faraway gaze, in the way he moves with a calm self-possession of his body and a casual awareness of his own strength. But tonight the scent of the night air clings to his clothes and Ichigo's kind dark eyes have warmth and life in them; he seems present, alive and vibrant, and Uryuu is glad. So very glad.

"Kurosaki-san!" Orihime, delighted and flushed with surprise, darts across the room; in her excitement she scatters confetti all over the floor. "I didn't expect to see you here. I didn't think to invi—"

Uryuu's blue eyes widen in alarm, but before he can intervene Chad appears at her elbow like a silent shadow and guides her away; soon Keigo and Tatsuki assail her with helpfully distracting questions about centerpieces and signs and where do the red-bean-paste-and-cheese-loafs-go? The Quincy sighs in relief and turns his eyes to the former shinigami standing alone, somewhat awkwardly, in the center of the room.

With no idea of what to say or how to begin a conversation that doesn't involve their lives all hanging in the balance, the Quincy turns and gestures to the thick wooden table nearby. "Kurosaki," he commands easily, "help me with this. I need to move it—" a nod to the far corner of the room "—over there."

And Ichigo, being Ichigo, takes matters immediately and instantly into his own hands; he hefts one side of the table in a strong, capable grip and pulls; the screech of wood against the floor makes Uryuu cringe. He slams his hand down on the table. "Kurosaki!"

Ichigo stops and sets the table down, bewildered. "Huh?"

The Quincy closes his eyes and attempts patience. You're too impulsive. You don't think things through. Out loud, he replies, "You'll scuff the floor. Let me pick up the other end. You walk backwards and—"

"Like hell I'm going to walk backwards with this thing," Ichigo mutters, and releases his end of the table just as Uryuu lifts his own. "You walk backwards and I'll get on the other side. And anyway, wouldn't it go better in the other corner?"

Uryuu grits his teeth. Yes. Yes, it would, but… "That's not where Inoue-san wants it. Pick up your end." Ichigo grouses but finally complies; together they lift the table from the floor. Good. Synchronicity. Uryuu likes this, likes order. "Now just slowly—"

Ichigo moves before Uryuu is ready; the Quincy stumbles forward a few steps, accidentally slams the table into Ichigo's sternum, and receives a glare in return. "Oi, Ishida," Ichigo instructs, "watch where you're going."

"I wouldn't have to watch where I was going if you would go about this properly," Uryuu snaps, and he can't help it, because moving a table shouldn't be so damn difficult and really, after all this time, do they have no more in common than they did when they first met?

Ichigo snorts. "Well excuse me, I didn't know it'd take two damn hours to move a table—"

"Just forget it," Uryuu snaps, because he knows he'll lose his temper if this keeps up and it's late and he's tired and growing more irritable by the second. "I'll do it on my own."

Ichigo throws his hands up in the air. "Suit yourself."

As though I'm the one with the problem, Uryuu thinks, and sets about moving the unwieldy piece of furniture. Really. It doesn't take that much coordination. I don't need help. Carefully he places cloth beneath each leg and then gives the table an experimental shove; he's pleased to find that it glides easily across the floor with little effort.

See, Kurosaki? He glances up smugly once the table sits in its proper place. The extra five minutes to think things through really does make a diff—

But Ichigo, he realizes, is gone.

Uryuu waits for five minutes—he went to get a drink, and then fifteen—maybe he had to run home for something, and then thirty before he realizes that the former shinigami isn't coming back. Hesitantly, he turns his gaze to his friends: Inoue's steadying the ladder as Tatsuki hangs a sign, and Keigo's whining while he and Mizuiro set up booths for the next day's festivities.

He doesn't want to worry them.

Anyway, he rationalizes, it's my fault he left, so I should be the one to look for him. And so—chiding himself for his part in such a stupid, meaningless argumentthe Quincy quietly abandons the bustle of the festival rooms for the darkened hallways of the school. The building feels smaller now that it's empty; exit signs glare menacingly from the darkness and Uryuu's footsteps echo loudly in the deserted corridors. Quietly, efficiently, he peeks into classroom after classroom to find nothing more than clean chalkboards and neat rows of unoccupied desks.

Maybe he went home.

The thought brings no comfort; Uryuu abandons his search with a sigh and ascends the steps to the school's roof. He tells himself that a few moments outdoors might soothe away the dull ache at his temples and the sickening pitch of his stomach, though he knows that's not true.

Shame: that's what this is, and no amount of fresh air will help it.

Weary, he leans against the railing and gazes down at the empty schoolyard and the soccer field where Ichigo's sister competes. Inhaling the scent of fresh-cut grass and night air, he closes his eyes and tries not to see his grandfather's kind, compassionate face. How did I grow up to be so much like my father, of all people? Short-tempered and impatient, cold, demanding… How he despises the constant corrections and reprimands, the insults, the smug superiority. How he dreads the cool, indifferent disapproval in Ryuuken's icy gaze. And yet tonight—the night above all nights he wanted to be kind and patient, to make someone feel welcome, wanted, needed—he can do little more than mimic everything he loathes.

Sorry, Ichigo. I'm not very good at being a friend.

He opens his eyes to the empty soccer field again, to the ball abandoned in the middle of the grass, and the sight spawns a bittersweet ache that he never used to feel before Hueco Mundo, before Orihime's tears, before the vicious hollow-that-can't-have-been-Ichigo that annihilated Ulquiorra Cifer. Nothing will ever be like it was before. Nothing will ever be the same again.

At times like these he misses his grandfather so much that it hurts.

But instead of brooding he looks up at the stars and tries to trace the shapes they make in the sky, and he thinks of stitches and knots, the delicate work of clever hands, the comforting slide of the needle through fabric and the threads that bind everything together. In time, maybe—

"Ishida. You okay?"

Startled, heart pounding, he glances up from his thoughts; Kurosaki Ichigo lounges casually against the railing next to him, dark eyes concerned. How long have you been here? Uryuu searches for words. "I'm fine. Those tables won't move themselves, Kurosaki." I came looking for you. I was afraid you'd left, maybe for good, and—

"I wanted some air." Ichigo turns his gaze back to the sky, leaning his weight on the railing. "I'll come back down in a minute." And it's back again, the distance between them, the pain in Ichigo's gaze and the tension that tightens his jaw and his shoulders.

Ishida wants to soothe it away, to do something to make it better, but he knows he can't: nothing can fix this. Maybe not even time. There are no easy answers, and the world is not kind. He's known this since he was young; he's known this since his grandfather died.

He hates it anyway.

"Oi, Ishida." Ichigo pauses for so long Uryuu almost thinks he won't say anything at all, but then, with his gazed fixed carefully on the sky, the former shinigami says, quietly, "I wanted to say I was sorry."

Ishida frowns. "Sorry for what?" The table? But Kurosaki wouldn't apologize for something like that. And so his mind jumps instead to all the trouble Kurosaki might have caused, or might be running from, and then he's thinking of shinigami and hollow and Espada and running and being chased and fighting and the memories feel so good he almost smiles.

But Ichigo's jaw is tense and his glance is haunted and dark, the same look Uryuu remembers from the horrible still moments after Ulquiorra's defeat. The former shinigami thrusts his hands in the pockets of his jeans, then turns his gaze to the ground. He swallows. "For before," he manages awkwardly, "when we were in Hueco Mundo on top of the Dome, and I…"

Even now, he can't say it.

Uryuu looks away and thinks of the scar on his abdomen, the irregular line of rough skin that he asked Inoue-san to leave him with as a memory of the entire ordeal. He cannot tell Ichigo he is grateful for the wound, grateful for the moment when Zangetsu pierced his flesh and the cold shock of pain sliced the world in two. They say a shinigami's zanpakuto is a part of him, and for just a minute, I…

felt your soul.

The loneliness, the protectiveness, the desperation and the world-weariness inside that blade: Uryuu cannot, and will not, forget it. And he wishes he could say don't apologize, because I'm glad it happened or I feel like I understand you now or even if I died at your hands, Kurosaki, it would be okay, but he knows Ichigo can't or won't understand and so he doesn't say anything at all. Instead he straightens his shoulders, adjusts his glasses and announces, with certainty, "I believe in you, Kurosaki."

He makes the words deliberately obtuse but he hopes Ichigo really hears them, hopes that the sentiments and his careful assertion can stitch the former shinigami's open wounds together somehow. I believe in who you are and what you can do. There's nothing to forgive, so believe in yourself too, and don't give up. Don't give up yet.

Ichigo's eyes warm. And this is the Ichigo Uryuu knows, the Ichigo who stood atop the Sougyouku, faced whole squads of shinigami, and ran into Hueco Mundo without looking back: genuine, honest, warm. This is the Ichigo Uryuu admires and once wished he could be. "Thanks, Ishida," the former shinigami says with simple boyish honesty, and squeezes Uryuu's shoulder.

A friendly gesture, Uryuu thinks, and nothing more—but he half-turns into the touch before he realizes it. And somehow, suddenly, they're close, and the warmth of Ichigo's body next to his makes thinking difficult and he isn't sure whether to look up or adjust his glasses or clear his throat. He settles for two out of three, shoving his glasses up his nose as he fixes Ichigo with what he thinks is a glare, and then reaches out to push Kurosaki away because really, that idiot needs to learn a thing or two about personal space and boundaries, and too close is too close and—


And the worn fabric of Ichigo's shirt is soft beneath his fingers and even that feels wrong, so wrong, because Ichigo's body belongs in a shihakusho, in the simple black uniform that somehow fits his lean-muscled frame precisely. That capable, sword-calloused hand that carries school bags and spins pencils in idle boredom should be wrapped around Zangetsu.

Overwhelmed by sudden sadness, Uryuu leans forward—against his own better judgment—to rest his forehead against Ichigo's shoulder.

Ichigo pauses; his stance seems uncertain and Uryuu flushes at what he imagines will be imminent rejection. But then, after a moment, Ichigo's warm palm slides down Uryuu's back, presses against the gentle arch of his spine, holds him there in an embrace-that-isn't. The former shinigami doesn't speak, and Uryuu's grateful that, for once, Kurosaki's perception has kicked in at precisely the right time.

They breathe.

They breathe quietly, together, and the gentle rhythm comforts them both. The tension flees Ichigo's frame as the silence lengthens and he rests his chin on the top of Uryuu's head, his palm rubbing small, absent circles against the small of the Quincy's back. The just-showered scent of him mingles with the scent of cut grass from the earth far below and Uryuu breathes it in, luxuriates in the warmth of the body pressed against his own. After a moment's hesitation and a small argument with himself, he reaches up to thread tentative fingers into Ichigo's disheveled hair.

He permits himself to indulge.

The heat of Ichigo's hand against his back, the arms now settled loosely around him, the steady rhythm of the former shinigami's breathing: he permits himself to enjoy it, permits everything, and refuses to be ashamed of what in any other situation might be unacceptable vulnerability because suddenly Uryuu understands the bittersweet, inevitable truth:

You weren't made for this world.

The wrongness of everything, Ichigo's unhappiness in this everyday existence with everyday problems, the way his hand still curls against itself as though he's fighting not to reach for Zangetsu—all of these things make it clear that a simple human life isn't enough for this slim, stubborn, defiant boy. Uryuu closes his eyes. Don't give up, Ichigo. Somehow, we'll find a way to change things. His fingers tighten on the sleeves of Ichigo's shirt. Even if it means saying goodbye.

"Ishida." The former shinigami's husky voice holds concern, though he seems reluctant to break the silence. "What's wrong?"

Uryuu doesn't want to say it. He suspects any sacrifice that might make Ichigo a shinigami again will be more painful than they can imagine, but I'm afraid of losing you sounds almost trivial after everything they've been through, after losing limbs and nearly losing comrades and fighting alone with almost no hope of returning home. He can't bring himself to burden Ichigo with any more pain, anyway. You'd just try to fix it or make it better somehow. It's how you are.

He glances up. Ichigo's dark eyes reflect the moonlight; the set of his mouth is soft and serious. And though Kurosaki's lack of nuance irritates Uryuu at the best of times, right now the former shinigami's not talking or assuming or arguing or trying, in his stubborn way, to fix things. He simply waits.

Uryuu adjusts his glasses because the motion comforts him as he tries to think of what to say. Ichigo's hand still rests warm and reassuring against his back. The bond between them and the quiet shared intimacy feels precarious now, fragile; he can step away and the moment will be over.

He doesn't.

Instead, with all the pride his grandfather instilled in him and the confidence of his illustrious lineage, he announces with firm certainty: "I swear on the pride of the Quincy, Kurosaki, everything isn't over." Whatever it takes to make you a shinigami again, I will do. And despite all the uncertainty in his world and the way everything's changed since the Winter War, he knows he can change things. Maybe he doesn't know how to say I'm sorry for being a jerk or I wish you weren't in pain and maybe he doesn't have any clear or concrete answers. But he is a Quincy, damn it, he is Ishida Uryuu, and he thinks maybe the sharp eye and the clever hands that mend delicate fabric and steady a bow can make things right, can mend a heart, too. Just a little.

Just enough.

Silence falls. Ichigo closes his eyes and turns his head to the side, a faint almost-smile curving his lips, and for a horrible moment Uryuu thinks the former shinigami's going to double over laughing, or snort in disbelief, or maybe just look at him with the blase indifference Keigo always seems to merit. He stiffens instantly, but then Ichigo glances back at him with fragile hope written on his boyish features and real warmth, real life in those tired dark eyes. "I believe you," he says simply.

The kiss, when it comes, seems natural.

Uryuu expects it almost, knows what it means to be this close to someone, to look into someone's eyes for this long. Armed with that knowledge, he approaches the matter as methodically as he approaches everything else; he tilts his head just so, closes his eyes, and tries to focus on the feel of Kurosaki's strong shoulders beneath his palms, on the feel of Ichigo's hand fisting the fabric of his shirt. And as it turns out, Ichigo kisses like he fights: wholeheartedly, with an intensity that would be overwhelming if it weren't so damn good.

Out of habit, the Quincy tells himself to pull away. But he doesn't, even when he thinks of Ryuuken, thinks of all the promises and oaths he's sworn about shinigami, because Ichigo isn't a shinigami right now and that makes everything okay. And then Ichigo's hands slide to his hips, tighten, and pull him closer, and Uryuu forgets thinking at all because he's dizzy with the relentless tenderness of this kiss, the touch of tongues and the slow-blooming warmth that makes it impossible to break away. His dark hair's falling forward into his face and he can't spare a hand to fix it; the former shinigami's fingers tangle in silken ebony strands and dishevel them further.

And it's strange,Uryuu thinks, how much even the smallest acts of intimacy can tell you about a person; he can feel the desperate loneliness in Ichigo that mirrors his own, can sense protectiveness and strength in the rough tenderness of the kiss, in the way Ichigo's hands slide up to cradle his face. They part to breathe only momentarily; Uryuu's fingers tighten, painful and demanding, in Ichigo's hair. He needs this too, maybe as much as Ichigo. Maybe more. The former shinigami complies with the silent request and lowers his head again; the second kiss bruises deliciously.

They kiss until they can't breathe, until the initial urgency dulls, and only Uryuu's rapid heartbeat disturbs the soft silence that falls as they break away, breath soft and shallow, to gaze at each other. Ichigo's dark eyes are soft, vulnerable; Uryuu knows his own blue gaze is cool and unreadable.

What happens now?

The typically-impeccable Quincy knows that his glasses are askew, his hair a disheveled mess, mouth kiss-bitten. He can't will the flush from his cheeks. Any moment now, he thinks, Inoue will traipse up the stairs, beaming, to proudly announce the completion of the festival decorations; Tatsuki will follow, and then Mizuiro, and then everyone, teasing and shouting and laughing.

He should go.

Should, but can't, because Ichigo's hands are clasping his hips only loosely now—a silent gesture that means you can leave if you want—and the former shinigami is watching him wordlessly with those quiet haunted eyes. And Uryuu knows without asking that if he leaves, Ichigo won't fault him for it, will accept this small parting along with all the other, greater ones.

This moment is fragile, a brief reprieve from the scarred world they now inhabit, and Uryuu's learned since the war to cherish these times as they come. The future holds no guarantees, and if Ichigo becomes a shinigami again, if…

Uryuu is no longer under the delusion that fate will be kind to them because they are young, or hopeful, or brave.

So, after a moment's hesitation, he relaxes again in Ichigo's arms and closes his eyes so he can focus on the simple warmth, the closeness, the profound comfort of mutual understanding. Just a little longer. Ichigo's arms tighten around him; Uryuu sighs in quiet acquiescence and listening to the steady, comforting rhythm of Ichigo's heartbeat, traces the shape of Ichigo's shoulders with his hands and tries to remember the intensity of the former shinigami's reiatsu.

They don't speak. Right now, there's no need for words.